Israel: Still the Apple of God’s Eye Part Two
Many people who become Christians still struggle in their faith and have an inability to trust God earnestly. Mankind in general has a problem trusting God. Israel is no different. And though there has always been a faithful remnant, the vast majority’s rejection of Him down through history has cost the nation dearly. Three major examples illustrate Israel’s failure—and that of all mankind.
Kadesh Barnea Rebellion. Following Moses through the wilderness, Israel grumbled all the way. When they appeared trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s quickly approaching army, the Israelites immediately began to gripe, even though the glory of God was shielding them from the Egyptians: “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?…It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:11–12). Unfortunately, that attitude has been the story of their lives.
Camped in the wilderness, they worshiped foreign gods. While Moses was on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, Aaron was building a golden calf that the nation worshiped (Ex. 32). The Israelites also worshiped Moloch and the gods of neighboring countries (Acts 7:43).
Leviticus 17:7 (Hebrew text) says some Israelites worshiped goat demons even as the Tabernacle stood in their midst, with God’s pillar of cloud visible by day and His pillar of fire by night. Some worshiped foreign gods even as they gathered food in the form of manna sent by Yahweh.
In many ways they were not so different from many Christians today. Each day we experience God’s blessing and see all He gives us, yet we find our hearts drawn to “foreign gods.” We’re more concerned about getting the latest iPod or iPhone or having the latest model car than we are about pursuing God and investing time in personal devotions. We’re more concerned about material things than about cultivating our relationships with God.
Imagine how God must have felt as He was leading Israel through the wilderness. And then came Kadesh Barnea, the nadir for that generation. From Kadesh Barnea Moses sent 12 men, one from each tribe, into Canaan to spy out the land God had given them. They returned with samples of the fruit, saying the land “truly flows with milk and honey” (Num. 13:27). However, they also discouraged the congregation by saying, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (v. 31). Only spies Caleb and Joshua believed God would give them victory, but they were shouted down:
All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!” (14:2).
The lack of faith at Kadesh Barnea was so egregious that God refused to work with that generation any longer. Fed up, God rejected them; and they wandered in the wilderness for the next 38 years until they died. Then He brought their children into the land.
Solomon’s Idolatry. The Bible tells us that David’s son Solomon started well in his reign as king over Israel. David had subdued the land and broadened Israel’s borders. Solomon then ascended the throne as God’s chosen ruler (1 Chr. 22:9–10). He was a man of peace; that is what his name means. He extended the borders to their farthest point in history so far, and he did so by seeking wisdom from God. Solomon’s great wisdom is legendary.
It was he who built the first Temple in Jerusalem, which became one of the wonders of the ancient world. With God’s glory inhabiting the Temple and God’s people ruled by their greatest king, Israel experienced the tremendous blessing of God.
Then, at the apex of his life, Solomon turned from God to worship the deities of his foreign wives. What Moses had clearly prohibited in writing, Solomon did. Eventually his sin caught up with him, and the latter years of his life are a sad story of his rebellion from God.
These events picture what happened to the entire nation of Israel. In 722 B.C. God dissolved the northern kingdom as it went into captivity in Assyria. And from 605 B.C. to 586 B.C., the southern kingdom went into captivity in Babylon. The nation’s history is virtually the story of Solomon repeated over and over through the years, as Israel turned away from the glory of the majesty and revelation of God, who had drawn Israel to Himself.
Pharisees’ Hypocrisy. The Bible tells us the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day, were self-righteous and thought themselves better than everyone else. Though they tithed the spices in their cupboards, their hearts were hard. Jesus said they would never lift a finger to help someone out of his sin, but instead were anxious to make everyone slaves of self-righteousness, just as they were (Mt. 23:1–39).
The Pharisees spurned Jesus’ ministry. He came proclaiming Himself to be the Son of the living God, offering them the Kingdom God had promised to David and Solomon and offering Himself as the Savior of Israel. Yet these religious rulers rejected Him and looked for ways to get rid of Him. Finally He was crucified.
Jesus told them that hypocrisy marked their lives. In Matthew 23 He castigated them for their sinfulness, rebellion, and hard-heartedness, saying over and over again, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” They had turned away from the God who had given them such wonderful blessings.
Isn’t that where we are as a nation today? Haven’t most Americans rejected the things of God, ignoring all the blessings He has provided? We celebrate Thanksgiving and stop for a moment to say, “Thank you God, for this great land. Thank you for all of the blessings and religious freedoms we have.” But then we say, “No thank you, God. I don’t want your Word. I don’t want your ways. I don’t want you in our schools. I don’t want you in our public arenas anywhere.” And, as with the Pharisees, the day will come when we will be judged.
At the end of Matthew 23, Jesus left Jerusalem. As He looked out over the city, He lamented:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ!” (vv. 37–39).
Thus the rejection of Jesus was the final straw concerning what God wanted to do with the nation of Israel at that point in history.
Today many would say there is no future for Israel. They believe nothing good lies ahead for the nation because it failed to receive Jesus as its Messiah.
But Scripture teaches quite the opposite. Israel has paid dearly over the years for its failure to walk in God’s ways. Yet God has not forsaken Israel. In fact, His Word is abundantly clear about Israel’s future restoration and glory.